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Frank Benest to retire as Palo Alto city manager

Original post made on Nov 27, 2007

Frank Benest today announced he will retire as Palo Alto's city manager effective June 30, 2008, ending months of speculation about his tenure and nearly eight years of sometimes turbulent management experiences and personal traumas.

Related stories:

  • Benest elicited respect, provoked aggravation

    Read the full story here: Web Link posted Tuesday, November 27, 2007, 3:54 PM

  • Comments (31)

     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Ray Bacchetti
    a resident of University South
    on Nov 27, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    With Frank Benest's departure, we are losing a good man--an expert in his field, dedicated to the City, thick-skinned, caring, and tough. He's led the city through difficult times, all the while building a staff that is the envy of many a city like ours. I have worked with many of the city's managers, and I've found them very capable, thoughtful, committed to their work, and unfailingly helpful.

    In seeking his successor, I hope the City Council will place well up in the hierarchy of desired qualities skill and conviction about the importance of positive civic engagement, community building, the development of social capital, and an ability to make the common good first among equals as we work through differences, seize opportunities, and cope with problems.

    I'm glad we have him for several months more to help deal with the big ticket items on the City's docket. And I wish him well in whatever comes next in his life.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by John
    a resident of College Terrace
    on Nov 27, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    Frank Benest is a good and decent guy. His compensation for running this city is not out of line, even though I disagree with some of his decisions. He was brought aboard during the dot.com boom, thinking big visions, then he had to face the reality that PA is limited. That is a hard turn around.

    I give him kudos for the Mayfield deal, a real win/win. We are all left to feel the enhancement that it has (and will) bring.

    My major criticism would be the Opportunity Center. It is a magnet for more vagrants. The fact that he claims it as a major achievement is regretable. We are all left to feel the degredation that it brings.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Bye-Bye-Benest
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 27, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    The sooner Palo Alto has another City Manager, the sooner we will have someone who is "on-board" and a full-time City Manager.

    There is little evidence that this City Manager has had much interest about the details and issues of managing this city for a long, long time. He has little/no willingness to assume any responsibility for the scandals which have occurred on his "watch".


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Its been good to know you
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 27, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    I wish him well. I'll be interested in seeing what he does next. Stanford has hired some of our city insiders including a former mayor, and it has worked well for them.
    Can we give him the web site as a going away present?


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Jarred
    a resident of Midtown
    on Nov 27, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    Good riddance. The way he defended the god-awful website made me realize there was no depth to which he would not stoop.

    Now if we could only get rid of the mayor and the city council.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Fireman
    a resident of another community
    on Nov 27, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    [Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Fire the Fireman
    a resident of Adobe-Meadows
    on Nov 27, 2007 at 10:19 pm

    [Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by voter
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 27, 2007 at 10:31 pm

    It's a real shame that the voters don't have an opportunity to vote on the city manager, say after three years on the job. The city manager currently can hold this job for as long as he/she wants it. Since the city manager has most of the power, it only makes sense that the voters get to have a say so every once in a while.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by BYE BYE
    a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 1:13 am

    [Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by me
    a resident of another community
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 7:36 am

    Fireman,

    At least Frank is planned his retirement.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by papa
    a resident of Midtown
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 8:26 am

    How many votes has council taken behind closed doors on whether to terminate Benest in the past year? If you can't get that from one of your "sources," then why don't you count up the number of executive sessions council has held regarding Benest (which are described as personnel matters-city manager). At least that is publicly available and it might give you a clue that council has been attempting to remove him for at least a year, since the Emily Harrison controversy. It would be refreshing if the Weekly would work a little harder than just re-writing a press release when attempting to cover a story like this.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by papa
    a resident of Midtown
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 8:45 am

    A note to the Weekly's newsroom: Now is the time when the City will be preparing the compensation package for the next manager. It won't happen in public unless you push a bit. You might start by asking council members if they support or oppose

    (1) giving the next manager a severance package of 9 months pay (like Benest got);

    (2) any additional compensation for housing;

    (3) permission to do side jobs (like Benest's consulting firm, which was the reason why the city went to the every-other-Friday-off schedule);

    (4) a car allowance considering the City's views on alternative transportation;

    (5) the same salary as Benest (which theoretically took him years of work to reach) or a higher one;

    (6) the same number of days off;

    (7) evaluations that are not tied to compensation levels.

    Talk about these issues now because if you don't, then Staff will draw up an outlandish contract that will be presented to the council and public only a day or two before a vote on hiring the next manager.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Perplexed in Palo Alto
    a resident of Downtown North
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 11:26 am

    [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

    We can only hope that the new city council will have the maturity and focus to do its main job: recruit and supervise a city manager who can (and will) run the city well. It might start by looking toward Mountain View.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Araj Turos
    a resident of Downtown North
    on Nov 28, 2007 at 9:16 pm

    [Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Resident
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 1:36 am

    When Mr. Benest retires, I look forward to welcoming him and his family into our neighborhood and community. He has had an extremely stressful job managing this highly demanding City and it's citizens, while enduring tremendous personal loss and pain. Unlike managers and employees of private companies, our City employees have the additional burden of having their every move, comment, action, and decisions questioned and exposed to the public by the press (whether it is newsworthy or not), and subjected to public criticism, ridicule, and humiliation on this forum.
    Imagine if every mistake at HP, Xerox, Intel, or Cisco, were made public? They make costly errors that exceed ours. You do not realize that this is passed on to the public in one way or another, through the rise or fall of stock, or the cost of a product or service. Having so much transparency and public scrutiny in one's work, may make finding a new manager difficult. I have lived in many other cities and states, and believe the employees in this City are more educated and honest than any of the other cities that I have resided in. I welcome Mr. Benest and his family into our neighborhood and community, and wish him health, happiness, and success in his future.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
    a resident of Midtown
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 4:40 am

    "Imagine if every mistake at HP, Xerox, Intel, or Cisco, were made public?"
    Mistakes at businesses are rewarded by getting fired or by plants closing. When was the last public official fired, Bucky? When was the last time a government program closed down? When was the last time a government function was outsourced?


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Walter Mitty
    a resident of Adobe-Meadows
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 9:09 am

    "Mistakes at businesses are rewarded by getting fired or by plants closing. When was the last public official fired, Bucky?"

    Walter, in a few words - "Carly Fiorina", or name your own CEO (how about the Countrywide meltdown). You can't be serious about people in the private sector - at high levels - getting their just desserts.
    PUblic officials fired? Look into Ohio, S. Calkifornia. people have been jailed.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by It's-Time-For-Him-To-Go
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 9:39 am

    > Mistakes at businesses are rewarded by getting
    > fired or by plants closing.

    This is absolutely true.

    Anyone who looks at the failures of Southern California Government and the couple of employees who might have gone to jail, and tries to compare that to the collapses of whole industry segments (like the steel industry) is very unrealistic, or schilling for 250 Hamilton Avenue.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by just kidding
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    [Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Walter Mitty
    a resident of Adobe-Meadows
    on Nov 29, 2007 at 9:27 pm

    Just kidding, I'll bet your lights and water service were functional during the last Unility Director's tenure. What's your beef?

    It's Time, And what happened to all the subprime execs?

    Didn't Bertolt Brecht say that when the government doesn't agreeing with the people, it's time to change the people? This is a perfect example of that.

    You are all about be replaced - like it or not. Palo Alto has lost a great contributor; I trust the new manager will laugh out loud at the hopelessness of some of this city's citizenry.

    Every ball game needs a few rubes.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Kevin R
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Dec 2, 2007 at 12:05 am

    There were a lot of funny Frank Benest moments over the years. The best one was the night council asked for an organizational chart for the city government and he replied that it would be impossible to draw one. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by It's-Time-For-Him-To-Go
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Dec 2, 2007 at 8:45 am

    Then there was the time that Benest got up from a meeting about growth in Palo Alto and went to the School District to tell them that there would be no growth in Palo Alto. Some one who seems to have attended both meetings alerted one of the local papers and Benest's picture telling the School Board something that probably wasn't true appeared on the front page of the next day's edition.

    On another occasion, to answer a question about how he was going to fix the infrastructure backlog, he told the council that he was going to double the city's infrastructure budget every year. If he had done that, the city's infrastructure spending would have been along the following lines: $1M, $2M, $4M, $8M, $16M, $32M, $64M, $128M. It wouldn't have taken long for the whole city budget to have been consumed by infrastructure spending at that rate.

    Good times .. yeah .. good times ..


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Carol Mullen
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on Dec 2, 2007 at 10:07 am

    On the storm drains, Frank Benest was reined in. He was ordered to get something, anything done. Design a partial repair, because by that time costs had risen so much, and confidence had fallen so far that anything more might have failed to pass. What he submitted barely passed, and costs had risen so far that the money raised didn't cover everything promised.

    The delay was due to Council's delay in ordering Benest to design something they could get passed.

    Had they done this in his second year, the same amount of money could have been raised, and it was estimated then to have done the entire job.

    It is hard for Council members to give orders to a new hire, but perhaps we should let them know that the Mitchell library has been stalled too long, and first priority is to design a proposal easy to pass.

    (The Mitchell library upgrade is not of special interest to me, and may not be to many other people, but fairness ought to be of interest to all of us, and its backers have grown old, standing in line.)


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Mike
    a resident of College Terrace
    on Dec 2, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    "The best one was the night council asked for an organizational chart for the city government and he replied that it would be impossible to draw one. "

    Here's another statement (by the poster) that clearly indicates an ignorance of how organizations work, on the *poster's part*.

    There are MANY fluid organizations that go down only 3-4 levels, before the fluidity of the organization takes over - fuzzing strict organizational boundaries.

    What I remember about that time is the egregious lack of common sense that was visited on City Hall managers by some policy makers, some of whom seemed intent on making internal operations personnel recreate every waking moment of their daily organizational lives on paper, simply to serve some abnormal desire of said policy makers to know everything that was going on, in micromanaged detail. I've never seen anything like it.

    My hat is off to Frank Benest for being able to manage his way through the fiasco that was past City Councils, up until just very recently. Since then, that body has finally began to come to its senses , and begin to make policy for this city that has at least more than a snowball's chance in hell of leading our city forward - even a little. We still have a ways to go.


    Carole Mullen: "The delay was due to Council's delay in ordering Benest to design something they could get passed."

    Exactly. This kind of thing happened over and over again. Past Councils - prior to the current Council, have been grossly ineffective in their respective abilities to perceive forward risk (and change). The reason for this was not because the individuals involved were incompetent, but rather that they thought that the Valley gravy train was going to keep running, like a perpetual motion machine. So did other municipalities. Now we have to get to work, and bite a few bullets.

    The next City Manager is going to have to be *just as strong* as Frank Benest has been, if not stronger. If we hire someone who is going to kowtow to Council, especially in these times, that's a BIG mistake. If we hire someone who thinks s/he is naive enough to enter the fray - and try to "unify" Palo Alto's various competing interests, THAT will be a disaster.

    We need an operations honcho, who is not afraid of decision making in the face of a tendency by *some* policy makers to retreat into the passive mode of decision-making of years past, when we let small, vocal minorities rule our city.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Conflict of interest?
    a resident of Escondido School
    on Dec 2, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    Frank mentioned he may teach in the future. He has taught at Stanford.
    Do you suppose he is going to work for them even though he is negotiating with them right now? This is really scary.
    Is he allowed to do that?


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Fred Balin
    a resident of College Terrace
    on Dec 2, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    I believe the operative statute would be California's Political Reform Act of 2007, Section 87407, "Influencing Prospective Employment".

    "No public official shall make, participate in making, or use his or her official position to influence, any governmental decision directly relating to any person with whom he or she is negotiating, or has any arrangement concerning, prospective employment."
    Web Link

    What constitutes 'negotiating' or an 'arrangement?' A related California Fair Political Practices Commission document provides some additional information:

    " the following contacts with a prospective employer can trigger application of the statute:

    " -An interview with an employer or his or her agent.
    "- Discussing an offer of employment with an employer or his or her agent.
    "- Accepting an offer of employment."
    Web Link


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Pete
    a resident of Palo Verde
    on Dec 2, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    Fred,

    Your example of the current rules provides the rationale to cancel them. They are, essentially, quid-pro-quo stuff. Anybody with half a brain could get around them.

    I think it is much preferable to allow officials to cut any future employment deal they want, as long as they report it. This would allow us to come to our own conclusions (right or wrong), without all the hocus pocus


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Graduate Student
    a resident of Ventura
    on Dec 2, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    The Palo Alto City Council is meeting in closed session on Monday, December 3, to discuss with its negotiator John Shannon the subject of Frank Benest's salary and fringe benefits.

    I wonder why the Council believes it needs to discuss Benest's compensation when Benest just announced he is going to retire at the end of June 2008.

    The Council previously met in closed session on October 22 and 23 to evaluate Benest's performance as City Manager.

    Benest's employment contract with the city guarantees Benest nine months severance pay (salary and cash equivalent of fringe benefits) if the Council asks him to retire or if the Council terminates his employment.

    The reason the employment contract has the choice of retirement or termination is that Benest has the option of refusing to retire if the Council asks him to retire, but he has no choice if the Council terminates his employment.

    Palo Alto's Charter requires six votes to terminate the employment of the City Manager.

    I doubt the Council would ask Benest to retire in exchange for nine months severance pay and then be happy if Benest replied he would retire nine months later so he could collect both nine months salary and benefits plus nine months severance pay.

    A recent contract change requested by Benest and the other Council Appointed Officers requires the Council to wait three months after a new Council Member takes office before they can terminate the employment of Benest (or the others) without cause.

    In other words, if the Council can't get the six votes to remove Benest from office this year, then they must wait until April 2008 (90 days after newly elected Council Members Burt, Espinosa, Schmidt, and Yeh take office) to remove Benest from office.

    I suspect the reason the Council will be meeting in Closed Session on Monday, December 3 to discuss Benest's compensation is that at least a five-member majority of the Council want him to leave, and might be willing to give him his severance pay in exchange for asking him to retire, but the Council wants him to leave much earlier than June 30, 2008, and so far there are not six Council Members who want to vote to terminate Benest's employment whether he wants to leave or not.

    [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

    I doubt that Benest is going to leave without his nine months of severance pay.

    From that perspective, Benest's press release announcing his resignation is not a resignation announcement at all, but rather a negotiating strategy to get the nine months severance pay plus as many additional months of compensation equal to the number of months he can convince four Council Members to continue to employ him.

    A majority of the Council has the authority to release the results of each Council Members vote taken in closed sessions, including any votes taken on October 22 and 23.

    [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

    The public can help the Council achieve its objectives regarding the City Manager's employment status if the Council will only tell the public what it is trying to do.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Bye Bye benest
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Dec 2, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    Knowing our city council, they will probably meet to increase his retirement package, award him 9 months serverance pay anyway, regardless of if he stays or not and sign over the deed to his home to him while assuming the remaining mortgage payments.
    Finally they will issue a statement praising Benest in glowing terms and falling all over themselves to tell Benest how wonderful he is.
    they will then declare a day for next year which will be Frank benest Appreciation Day so that everyone in the city can shower him with praise.

    It will be interesting to find out what Larry Klein decides since he just lambasted Frank for his non-oral reports on harrassment complaints.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Diogenes
    a resident of Walter Hays School
    on Dec 2, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    Pete in Palo Verde ---- You missed Fred Balin's point completely. He is quoting from existing CA law, which is controlling in this matter. You talk that it should be changed is irrelevant. IT IS THE LAW. Slow down and think.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Antisthenes
    a resident of Charleston Gardens
    on Dec 2, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    Diogenes, like your namesake, you misjudge.

    Pete said anyone with half a brain could run circles around the current, legal, constraints. Do you get it? Including the pun?


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